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What is Isomalto-Oligosaccharide? A Concise Guide

Isomalto-oligosaccharide (IMO) is a type of carbohydrate that has gained popularity as a low-calorie, high-fiber ingredient often used in protein bars and other functional foods. These glucose oligomers consist of α-D-(1,6)-linkages, which can be found naturally in certain fermented foods and natural sweeteners. However, they are commonly synthesized in laboratories and mass-produced for large-scale use in various food products.

Chemically, isomalto-oligosaccharides are composed of glucose molecules linked together, such as isomaltose, panose, isomaltotriose, and isomaltopentose. These compounds exhibit prebiotic properties, providing food for gut bacteria and offering potential health benefits. As a food ingredient, IMO can be added to a variety of foods in powder or syrup form, contributing to the overall nutritional profile of the product.

Key Takeaways

  • Isomalto-oligosaccharides are low-calorie, high-fiber carbohydrates used in protein bars and functional foods.
  • These glucose oligomers can be found naturally in certain foods, but are often synthesized in labs for large-scale production.
  • The prebiotic properties of IMO may offer health benefits, making it a potentially valuable addition to various food products.

Source and Production of Isomalto-Oligosaccharide

Isomalto-oligosaccharide (IMO) is a mixture of short-chain carbohydrates known for their digestion-resistant properties. Naturally found in some foods, it is also manufactured commercially for various applications, mainly as a low-carb prebiotic fiber sweetener. Starch serves as the raw material for this production process, which is enzymatically converted into a mixture of isomalto-oligosaccharides.

The production of IMOs involves the use of specific enzymes to hydrolyze amylopectin, a type of starch. Compared to amylose, another form of starch, amylopectin is easier to break down into IMOs. Some IMOs, like fructose oligosaccharide and chitosan, exhibit special physiological functions in the human body, making them advantageous for various health applications.

During the production process, modified MRS (de Man, Rogosa, and Sharpe) medium is used in combination with IMOs as a carbon source, resulting in improved growth of Lactococcus lactis, a lactic acid bacteria. This highlights the prebiotic potential of IMOs, which support the growth of beneficial bacteria in the human gastrointestinal tract, promoting gut health.

In moderate quantities, IMOs have positive effects on gastrointestinal motility and gut health, particularly for individuals with constipation or those consuming a low-fiber diet. They also tend to produce less gas compared to other prebiotics like fructo-oligosaccharides and xylo-oligosaccharides, making them a more tolerable option for many consumers.

Chemical Structure and Properties

Isomaltooligosaccharide (IMO) is a mixture of short-chain carbohydrates that exhibit digestion-resistant properties. These oligosaccharides can be naturally found in certain foods and are also produced commercially. The primary raw material used for IMO manufacturing is starch, which is enzymatically converted into a mixture of isomaltooligosaccharides.

The chemical structures of isomaltooligosaccharides can be industrially obtained through the enzymatic reaction of cornstarch, specifically using α-amylase derived from Bacillus licheniformis and Bacillus stearothermophilus. IMOs are functional oligosaccharides, which means they are non-digestible by human gut enzymes (except for maltooligosaccharides and trehalose) and provide health benefits such as fiber and prebiotics.

Isomalto-oligosaccharides exhibit a wide variation in their chemical and physical properties, which can pose challenges for product development from both academic and commercial points of view. These properties include:

  • Digestibility: As mentioned earlier, IMOs are mostly non-digestible by human gut enzymes, allowing them to pass through the gastrointestinal tract and perform their prebiotic functions.
  • Prebiotic Activity: IMOs serve as a food source for beneficial gut bacteria, promoting their growth and activity, which ultimately supports gastrointestinal health and the immune system.
  • Solubility and Stability: IMOs are soluble in water and exhibit high stability, making them suitable for various food product applications.

In summary, the chemical structure and properties of isomaltooligosaccharides classify them as functional oligosaccharides with potential health benefits. They are derived from starch through enzymatic processes and have a range of properties that make them compatible with various food applications.

Health Benefits

Prebiotic Effects

Isomalto-oligosaccharide (IMO) is a mixture of short-chain carbohydrates that has a digestion-resistant property. Due to its indigestible nature, IMO acts as a prebiotic, fostering the growth and balance of beneficial gut bacteria. A healthy balance of gut bacteria can boost your immune system and contribute significantly to overall health.

Blood Sugar Regulation

IMOs have a lower glycemic index than traditional sugars, which means they cause a slower and lower rise in blood sugar levels. This quality makes them an appealing alternative to regular sugar, particularly for individuals looking to manage their blood sugar, such as those with diabetes or prediabetes.

Digestive System Support

The digestion-resistant property of isomalto-oligosaccharides makes them beneficial for digestive health. As they pass through the gastrointestinal tract, they stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria while minimizing the propagation of harmful bacteria. This process can lead to improved digestion and overall gut health, contributing to better nutrient absorption and a healthier immune system.


Food Industry

Isomaltooligosaccharide (IMO) is commonly used in the food industry for its ability to replace high-calorie sugars and regulate sweetness without negatively affecting the taste and acceptability of products such as honey and syrups. As a prebiotic, IMO provides health benefits to the consumer while exhibiting a low glycemic index, making it an attractive option for manufacturers to include in their food products.

In addition to sweeteners, IMOs are often found in protein bars, functional beverages, and various snacks to enhance the nutritional value due to their positive impact on gut health and gastrointestinal motility. Incorporating moderate quantities of IMOs in foods can support digestive health, particularly for individuals with constipation or those consuming a low fiber diet.

Pharmaceutical Industry

The pharmaceutical industry also takes advantage of the prebiotic properties of IMO in their products. IMOs can be utilized within formulations to support the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, which in turn can aid in digestion and promote overall gut health.

Furthermore, due to their low glycemic index, IMOs can be incorporated into products targeting individuals living with diabetes or those wishing to maintain blood sugar control. The digestibility-resistant nature of these oligosaccharides makes them an ideal addition to various supplements and medications seeking to provide a balanced and healthier alternative to traditional sugar-based ingredients.

Safety and Side Effects

Isomalto-oligosaccharide (IMO) is a mixture of short-chain carbohydrates with digestion-resistant properties. It is derived from starch and occurs naturally in some foods, while also being produced commercially.

When it comes to safety, IMO is generally considered safe for consumption. However, it is essential to be aware of potential side effects, especially for individuals with specific dietary needs or health concerns.

One concern regarding IMO is its potential impact on blood sugar levels. While it is marketed as a low-glycemic sweetener, some studies have found it to cause less favorable outcomes on blood sugar levels. This may be especially relevant for diabetics who need to monitor their glycemic intake carefully.

Another aspect to consider is the potential for gastrointestinal side effects. As a prebiotic fiber, IMO can act as a food source for gut bacteria, which can offer several health benefits. However, excessive amounts of fiber can cause side effects like gas, bloating, and diarrhea, especially for those with a sensitive digestive system.

Finally, it is essential to acknowledge that research on IMO’s long-term safety and side effects is still relatively limited. As with any supplement or sweetener, moderation is crucial, and individuals should pay attention to their body’s response to determine if IMO is suitable for them.

In summary, while IMO is generally regarded as safe for consumption, it is important to be aware of its potential impact on blood sugar levels and gastrointestinal side effects. Moderation and attentiveness to one’s own body reactions are key factors when consuming products containing IMO.

Regulatory Aspects

Isomalto-oligosaccharide (IMO) is a food ingredient typically added to various products as either a powder or a syrup. Classified as a prebiotic, it has become increasingly popular in the food industry due to its digestion-resistant properties and low glycemic index. As interest and use of IMO grow, it becomes essential to discuss the relevant regulatory aspects involved.

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has assessed the GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status of IMO. Specifically, a GRAS Notice (674) was submitted for an isomalto-oligosaccharide mixture with a degree of polymerization of 3 or greater (VF-DP3-IMO), developed by BioNeutra. This status indicates that the ingredient is considered safe for consumption and can be used in various food applications.

In Canada, isomalto-oligosaccharide has gained recognition and approval for use as a food ingredient. Health Canada has guidelines in place for the inclusion of IMO in different types of products. According to its rules and recommendations, powder and syrup forms of IMO can be used in various food applications without posing any significant risks to consumers.

In the European Union (EU), regulations regarding prebiotics, such as isomalto-oligosaccharides, are governed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). While isomalto-oligosaccharides have not been specifically addressed, the EFSA follows a thorough procedure to evaluate food ingredients for safety and effectiveness before granting approval for their use within the EU.

It’s crucial to note that while several regulatory agencies have evaluated and approved isomalto-oligosaccharides for use in food products, manufacturers must adhere to specific guidelines and dosage limitations to ensure consumer safety. As the demand for IMO in both existing food markets and emerging regions continues to rise, adhering to these guidelines becomes increasingly essential.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the potential health benefits of consuming isomalto-oligosaccharides?

Isomalto-oligosaccharides (IMOs) are plant-based carbohydrates that promote digestive health, bowel movement quality, and frequency. They also support the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. IMOs have fewer calories and more fiber than table sugar, making them a healthier alternative.

Do isomalto-oligosaccharides have any side effects or health risks?

Although IMOs are generally considered safe for consumption, some individuals may experience gastrointestinal discomfort, such as bloating, gas, or diarrhea, especially when consumed in excessive amounts. It is essential to consume IMOs in moderation to avoid potential side effects.

How does the glycemic index of isomalto-oligosaccharides compare to other sweeteners?

The glycemic index (GI) of isomalto-oligosaccharides is relatively low when compared to other sweeteners. This means that IMOs have a lesser impact on blood sugar levels than traditional sweeteners like table sugar.

Can isomalto-oligosaccharides be safely consumed by individuals with diabetes?

Due to their low glycemic index, isomalto-oligosaccharides may be a suitable alternative for individuals with diabetes. However, it is essential to consult with a healthcare professional before making dietary changes, as individual circumstances and needs may vary.

Are isomalto-oligosaccharides suitable for those following a FODMAP or IBS diet?

IMOs may not be suitable for individuals following a FODMAP or IBS diet, as they can potentially cause gastrointestinal discomfort for those with a sensitive gut. It is best to consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian before incorporating IMOs into a FODMAP or IBS diet.

Is isomalto-oligosaccharide used as a halal-certified sweetening agent?

Isomalto-oligosaccharide can be used as a halal-certified sweetening agent, as it is derived from plant-based sources, such as starch. However, it is essential to ensure that the specific product being used has proper halal certification.